File photo

As of noon today, the Expo Line is open to the public and the people behind the actual construction of the tracks said the successful delivery of the project was due to excellent employees with access to cutting edge technology.

Phase 2 of the Expo Light Rail line is a $1.5 billion project that covers about 6.6 miles from Culver City to Santa Monica including seven new stations (four at-grade and three aerial). It is projected to carry 64,000 daily riders by 2030 (Downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica) and has an estimated travel time of 46 minutes end to end.

The mandate for Expo was ambitious. Contractors were tasked with creating a “transit parkway through the urban fabric to unite communities, integrate neighborhoods and create a source of civic pride.”

Designs had to include not only the train, but also bike facilities and pedestrian linkages with the requirement that the line and its stations provide a sustainable sense of place that also highlights the character of each neighborhood.

Skanska-Rados received the contract to design/build the project in 2011 and began major construction in 2012.

Casual observers can see the actual tracks in the street and touch the individual stations, but what they might miss is the huge task associated with what is actually one continuous project with structural, engineering and technological challenges more akin to a skyscraper than a street.

Conducting that work in the Los Angeles area with its already constrained infrastructure magnified some of those challenges, as did the need to work in close proximity to business and residents, some of whom were politically opposed to the line to start with.

Vice President Brian Freund and General Superintendent Geoff Bender said the company relied on well trained staff to keep the project on track and a few technological tricks helped ease some of the trouble spots.

“The people selected and assigned were the best people the company had and were sent here for this project,” Bender said.

He said when you’re building a project almost seven miles long that passes through residential neighborhoods, there’s going to be some disruption to the lives of nearby residents. However, he said the company’s approach is to be as collaborative as possible with neighbors and adapt whenever they can to neighborhood concerns.

That included a lot of time spent communicating about the construction plans and sometimes altering construction schedules to accommodate the needs of the residents or businesses along the tracks.

The outreach was particularly important while workers were essentially in the backyards of Cheviot Hills and Rancho Park residents, some of who actively opposed the project from the start.

“We try to be part of the community and to be a good neighbor,” Freund said.

They said the end result was a relatively conflict free work environment that motivated the front line workers to do better, safer, more efficient work.

And the work was not without logistical challenges. The line has to utilize elevated crossings, pass under bridges, travel down already developed roads, all while preserving access to utilities and installing high tech underground control systems.

In the past, contractors would have developed a plan on paper, begun digging and then tried to problem solve on the fly as unexpected delays occurred. However, in the modern era, advanced 3D modeling software allowed the company to build a virtual model of the line and identify problems before they occurred.

That’s not to say there weren’t surprises.

When entertainment businesses along the lines advocated for quiet trains, the company utilized new construction techniques. One example at the corner of 26th and Cloverfield has the tracks running over a slap of concrete that rests on springs. The system absorbs vibrations and dramatically reduces noise.

Both Freund and Bender said they were proud of the end result.

“We had the ability to see the transformation of the transit landscape in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, and that’s exciting,” Bender said.

editor@www.smdp.com